The Best Albums of 2008: 10-1

Artist: Los Campesinos!
Album: Hold on Now, Youngster…
Label: Arts & Crafts
US Release Date: 2008-04-01
UK Release Date: 2008-02-25

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List number: 10

British indie lacked many things in 2008, with inspiration, direction and overseas acclaim being chief among them. Albums from supposed big things like Foals and Friendly Fires left us cold, and proved that even though the rest of the world has moved on from post-punk and nu-rave, young Brits thought that the best way to get that Bloc Party money was to poorly rewrite Silent Alarm. Hold On Now, Youngster, the debut from seven Welsh teens, is like 20 million breaths of fresh air, indebted to the hooky roots of indie’s past by drawing in spirit from bands like Pavement and Belle and Sebastian. Each song is no less than orchestrated, with guitars and glockenspiels and violins and keyboards coalescing into precocious and energizing pop. At the center of it all is leader Gareth Campesinos!, whose caustic and hilarious lyrics take the piss out of his peers and himself with a sniper’s precision. Someone get these guys an NME cover. Jordan Sargent

Los Campesinos! – Death to Los Campesinos!Los Campesinos!: Hold on Now, Youngster…

Artist: Elbow
Album: The Seldom Seen Kid
Label: Fiction
Label: Geffen
US Release Date: 2008-04-22
UK Release Date: 2008-03-17

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List number: 9

Perpetually underrated as an outfit for the last seven years and three albums, The Seldom Seen Kid was the one Elbow needed to make, and yet perhaps always looked like making. Their fourth record was comfortable, in a way, finding the quintet sure-sounding, debonair and at ease. But rather than treading water, The Seldom Seen Kid was the sound of a band justifiable confident. It took what made the Mancunians’ first two such understated masterpieces — the warmth, the nuanced melodies and the subtly evocative lyricism — and opened them up to something altogether all-encompassing. It surprised no end of people who’d tagged them as kinsmen of Snow Patrol, Coldplay et al; people who never saw coming the beefy, ironclad riffs of “Grounds for Divorce” or the self-effacing gorgeousness of “Tower Crane Driver”. The sweeping orchestral grandeur of “One Day Like This” nabbed all the slow-mo Olympics montages, but there was delicate beauty concealed at every turn: on “Mirrorball”‘s precious piano solo or the heartbreaking simplicity of the elegiac “Friend of Ours”. Long overdue commercial success duly followed. But to a certain collection of devotees (and there have always been quite a few), The Seldom Seen Kid wasn’t the least bit surprising, it was merely Elbow fine-tuned nigh on to perfection. Chris Baynes

Elbow – Grounds for DivorceElbow: The Seldom Seen Kid

Artist: Lil Wayne
Album: Tha Carter III
Label: Cash Money
Label: Universal
US Release Date: 2008-06-10
UK Release Date: 2008-06-09

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List number: 8

“Since I am human, I am good and bad, as well, but I try my hardest to stay good… some of things I do and say may be bad, or just not too good—but I do try.” So says the ubiquitous man of the hour, near the end of the finest proper record of his career, as part of a long-winded soliloquy that touches on topics ranging from racial double-standards to drug laws to the Reverend Al Sharpton (“just another Don King with a perm”, per Weezy). However broad or convolutedly worded, it’s a rather striking, and perhaps revealing, statement coming from a very public figure known for both his elusive, schizophrenic mic persona and his much-reported legal woes. And it’s a sentiment that, in retrospect, actually echoes throughout Tha Carter III, from “swallow my words, taste my thoughts / and if it’s too nasty, spit it back at me” to “he so sweet wanna make her lick the wrapper / so I let her lick the rapper”. Josh Timmermann

Lil Wayne – A MilliLil Wayne: Tha Carter III

Artist: Deerhunter
Album: Microcastle
Label: Kranky
US Release Date: 2008-10-28
UK Release Date: 2008-10-27

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List number: 7

When it came to online leakage, Deerhunter/Atlas Sound mastermind Bradford Cox experienced the kind of issues that would most likely send Lars Ulrich into heaving convulsions. After seeing a less-than-faithful fan hack into his Mediafire folder and unleash not only Microcastle, but the surprise bonus disc of material entitled Weird Era, Cont. along with an in-the-works Atlas Sound LP slated for 2009 onto an unsuspecting blogosphere, a lesser artist would’ve hurled themselves off the top of the Google building. However, the music on both discs is so good, a beautiful butterfly of amniotic dream-rock emergent from Deerhunter’s caustic noise-pop cocoon, that just about everyone who helped themselves to a free copy online went out and picked up the physical copy anyway. Cox is a fine testament to the concept that you don’t have to be a major marquee name like Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails to give your shit away online (be it intentional or otherwise) and still move units in the brick-and-mortar record shops. If the music is good enough, people will still want to hold it in their hands. And maybe it’s the Smiths-esque salmon jacket art, but Microcastle/Weird Era, Cont. is worth blowing your milk money on at your local mom-and-pop. Ron Hart

Deerhunter – MicrocastleDeerhunter: Microcastle

Artist: Cut Copy
Album: In Ghost Colours
Label: Modular
US Release Date: 2008-04-08
UK Release Date: 2008-05-05
Australia release date: 2008-04-08

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List number: 6

These Aussie synthie stalwarts must have absorbed a busload of music between 2004’s Bright Like Neon Love and the trip to meet with the DFA’s Tim Goldsworthy to discuss their fond affections for Electric Light Orchestra and Manchester-sounding bass grooves. That trip found them recording In Ghost Colours, their phenomenally long, exhausting, and persistently stellar 2008 electropop gem. In Ghost Colours blisses out on M83/ MBV earphoria, finds love in the nu-romantic street lantern glow between early ’80s Madonna and New Order gyrations, and delights in taking analogues and digitals to their twinkliest peaks. Orchestrated scientifically for maximum effect, the album contains a glossary’s worth of tiny phrases, micro-bridges, and measured textures that cite the ghosts of the stroboscopic dancefloor past (Doo-wop backup crooning, house vamps, Britpop distortion effects, etc.). But none of that really matters, because the record’s compulsive beats and mindlessly catchy vocals will hook and infect any random passerby. Timothy Gabriele

Cut Copy – Lights and MusicCut Copy: In Ghost Colours

Artist: The Bug
Album: London Zoo
Label: Ninja Tune
US Release Date: 2008-08-12
UK Release Date: 2008-07-07

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List number: 5

From reggae to electronica to grime to dancehall to hip-hop to dubstep, London Zoo is a thick, thumping musical fog; a monstrous tour de force that was simply unmatched this year. Monumental bass and apocalyptic drums are couched in smooth, deep melodies, with subtle bursts and flourishes supporting the mayhem going on elsewhere. At the top of the mix, the likes of Ricky Ranking, Tippa Irie and Warrior Queen tell harrowing and disquieting tales of life in 2008. Paranoid, politically-charged and brutally rewarding, London Zoo is a truly global record, the kind that could only have come out of the planet’s only truly global city. London Zoo represents these corrupt and crumbling times every bit as well as OK Computer captured the pre-millennium blues. James Bassett

The Bug – SkengThe Bug: London Zoo

Artist: Erykah Badu
Album: New Amerykah, Part One
Subtitle: (4th World War)
Label: Motown
Label: Universal
US Release Date: 2008-02-26
UK Release Date: 2008-03-03

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List number: 4

A journey through the creativity that resides beneath Erykah Badu’s funky Afro makes for an amazing ride. Ever since her debut, Baduizm, she’s been working her mojo of mystical lyricism and soul tingling harmonies into a one-woman revolutionary movement. New Amerykah is an epic achievement about positioning oneself in the world, and being participatory in its paradigm shifts. While its political leanings suggest an attention to family, community, and national identity, the album is most potent in the personal realm. Ms. Badu is not afraid to explore her own struggles and shortcomings. Heady stuff packed in aspirin-sized lyrical doses, New Amerykah pays homage to artists J. Dilla and Ol’ Dirty Bastard as well as hip-hop culture in general. Badu’s cinematic vision drives this tour de force of jazz stylings, hip-hop swag, and R&B — everything a soul sista needs to keep you groovin’ to her righteous rhythms. Quentin Huff

Erykah Badu – HoneyErykah Badu: New Amerykah, Part One

Artist: TV on the Radio
Album: Dear Science
Label: Interscope
US Release Date: 2008-09-23
UK Release Date: 2008-09-22

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List number: 3

Things are clearer and muddier than ever on TV on the Radio’s superb third LP, Dear Science. The NYC band still plays at times like a twisted nightmare of Princely funk, but they could fill stadiums with the breadth and finesse of their new songs. As far as art-rock goes, TV on the Radio has always been more concrete than (similar critical darlings) Radiohead, more willing to trade in rock’s recognizable cogs and gears; their paranoia and alienation embodied not in a wailing, inchoate voice but in aggressive and intelligible metaphors. Dear Science, might be the group’s most accessible look at that alienation, but it compromises none of their dour outlook for all the new/shiny production and strings/horns that accompany dual frontmen Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone. In this sense, “Golden Age” was a false promise as first-taste –- things aren’t, despite the “there’s a golden age coming round”, all milk and Cookie Mountains. And TV on the Radio are still fascinated by that ragged edge, the intersection of mechanics and technology and its haunting effect on our lives. Like Return to Cookie Mountain, Dear Science invites adoration and interpretation. For something that sparkles so immediately and so brilliantly, that’s treasure worth cherishing indeed. Dan Raper

TV on the Radio – Golden AgeTV on the Radio: Dear Science

Artist: Fleet Foxes
Album: Fleet Foxes
Label: Sub Pop
US Release Date: 2008-06-03
UK Release Date: 2008-04-08

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List number: 2

One of the year’s most striking, unique, and magical releases, Fleet Foxes was pure synergy from the beginning. A 22-year-old writes songs in his parents’ basement in the Seattle suburbs. He and a childhood friend move to the big city to look for jobs. They form a band instead. Those basement songs are transformed into ethereal, majestic, sweeping anthems that are nonetheless intimate. This hirsute, flannel-wearing crew’s influences were readily apparent. But somehow, Robin Pecknold and his mates took the block harmonies of Crosby, Stills, and Nash and the Beach Boys, the haunted atmospherics of My Morning Jacket, and the whole of Brian Wilson’s “Teenage Symphonies to God” esthetic, and synthesized them into something with a life all its own. Fleet Foxes was rooted in the forests, riverbeds, and expanses of the Cascade Mountains, but the appeal of its songcraft, sincerity, and transportive power transcends time and place. John Bergstrom

Fleet Foxes – White Winter HymnalFleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes

Artist: Portishead
Album: Third
Label: Island
Label: Mercury
US Release Date: 2008-04-29
UK Release Date: 2008-04-28

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List number: 1

Sure, it wasn’t a hiatus of Chinese Democracy proportion, but Portishead’s decade-long lapse between albums two and three meant that Third was scrutinized more intensely than most albums released this year. Luckily, the English trio came back with a record that wasn’t a mere return to form, but a complete reinvention. In essence, it shouldn’t have worked. The band returned with a dense, richly layered record to a blog-saturated world where songs are judged in snippets rather than as a full, satisfying whole. Mixing folk and jazz inflections with krautrock rhythms and Beth Gibbons’ smoky, off-kilter vocals, Portishead cooked up a sumptuous, painstakingly created, musical feast. And, like any good meal, this time-consuming concoction had to be digested slowly, soaking in the subtle shading, textures, and flavor, in order to appreciate its full effect. As challenging as it is rewarding, Third is an album that gets better with every bite. Kevin Pearson

Portishead – Machine GunPortishead: Third